Paine, Rhiannon. Too Late for the Festival: An American Salary-Woman in Japan.

Chicago: Academy, 1999.

I have a longstanding interest in the culture and social structure of modern Japan, and I read a lot of contemporary Japanese authors (in translation) and also memoirs written by Westerners who have lived and worked in Japan for an extended period. Many of those have been teachers of English, which gives them a certain angle on the country, and which also usually means they speak at least a little Japanese themselves and have done some research beforehand.

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Published in: on 19 July 2018 at 5:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Clowes, Daniel. David Boring.

NY: Pantheon, 2000.

Clowes has done several first-rate graphic novels that have won awards. This, unfortunately, is not one of them. In fact, it lives up to its name: It’s utterly boring.

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Published in: on 1 July 2018 at 7:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1988.

More than fifty years ago, a professor in Greek and Roman History my sophomore year in college introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I became fascinated by the concept of sociohistorical archetypes. I spent more of my student budget than I should have on Campbell’s four-volume Masks of God, which was still being published then. I try to avoid having academic “heroes,” but Campbell comes close.

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Sjowall, Maj & Per Wahloo. The Laughing Policeman.

NY: Pantheon, 1970.

Scandinavian police-procedural crime novels are a fixture for American lovers of mystery yarns now, but when this one was first published in the U.S. in 1970, it was considered exotic. It also won an Edgar. It was the fourth of ten novels featuring Stockholm’s Detective Superintendent Martin Beck, a rather dour character with marital problems and a teenage daughter who gives him heartburn.

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Buxbaum, Julie. What to Say Next.

NY: Delacorte, 2017.

This is a much deeper and more thoughtful examination of high school romance than most I’ve seen. David Drucker is a very high-functioning borderline autistic whose life has long been made hell by classmates sneering at him as a “retard,” when he actually has the highest IQ of any kid in the school. He copes with the outside world by wearing headphones that surround him with music as he walks from one class to another, and by referring regularly to his notebook of rules and character sketches of everyone he interacts with.

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Cho, Michael. Shoplifter.

NY: Pantheon, 2014.

This not-long graphic novel isn’t even close to an epic. No superheroes, not even especially unusual characters. A “quiet” story, as they say, but it’s quite well done. Corinna Park is a Korean-Canadian in her mid-20s who is burning out in her job with an ad agency. Does she really want to keep pitching perfume to nine-year-old girls? But what else can you do to pay the bills in the big city with a degree in English Lit? (She’d rather be a novelist, but. . . .)

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Published in: on 26 April 2018 at 4:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Moebius. The World of Edena.

Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2016.

Like most Americans of my generation, I first discovered French graphic novelist Moebius (whose real name was Jean Giraud, and who died in 2012) in the highly innovative and much-mourned Heavy Metal Magazine. His work, like that of his European peers, was a far cry from the DC approach to comics. This epic (it runs to 360 pages) started out in 1983 as a contracted series for the Citroen car company, whose vehicles were always very “French” in design. But then it took off on its own and the resultant volume became an overnight collector’s item.

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Published in: on 10 April 2018 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Belle, Kimberly. The Marriage Lie.

NY: MIRA, 2016.

This appears to be the author’s third novel, though it’s the first I’ve of her, and she certainly knows how to write an exciting and occasionally emotionally wrenching story. Iris and Will have been very happily married and living in Atlanta for the past seven years and they’ve finally decided to start trying for a family. Will is a software designer of considerable skill and he’s flying off to be keynote speaker at a professional conference in Orlando — but then a plane from the same airline bound for Seattle goes down and Will’s name is on the manifest. Iris is devastated. It can’t be him, right? Why would he have been going to Seattle?

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Published in: on 27 March 2018 at 5:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Silverberg, Robert. Dying Inside.

NY: Ballantine, 1972.

Robert Silverberg has been one of science fiction’s most active authors and editors for most of the past fifty-odd years and his work falls largely on the “intellectual” end of the SF spectrum. He’s done fantasy and space opera, but his most important books are those that investigate the human mind and condition, and often with only a relatively thin science-fictional skin. This one began with the title, originally a New York-Jewish idiom, and the author decided it referred in his case to a character with something literally dying inside him. Not an organ but an unusual mental ability, like telepathy.

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Published in: on 6 March 2018 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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Wolitzer, Meg. The Interestings.

NY: Penguin, 2013.

Wolitzer has published close to a dozen novels but her record has been somewhat uneven. This may be one of her best, though, especially to those of us born before 1960. It’s the story of six kids who first come together one evening, aged fifteen and sixteen, in the summer of 1974 at Spirit-in-the-Woods, a determinedly artsy summer camp in the Adirondacks run by a couple of aging Greenwich Villagers.

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Published in: on 16 December 2017 at 6:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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